As we continue our look at altar wines, general notes.
• Sacramental wine is different from consumer wine. Different labeling. Different licensing for makers. Different federal and state taxes. That is why wine shops and liquor stores cannot carry the product, and why altar wine is not sold to the public even by makers.
The general public can buy wine made to altar wine standards—natural wine made only from grapes, with no additional ingredients—but those will be labeled and taxed as a general consumer product. Typically, label on such wine will read something like: “Approved for altar use.”
• High alcohol is not required of altar wine. This misconception flows from popularity of Angelica-style wine, the best-selling altar wine in U.S.
Angelica, made by both Mont La Salle and Cribari, is 18 percent alcohol, the highest permitted by Catholic canon law. Angelica is popular because it tastes fruity and sweet, and because high alcohol is a preservative, an important consideration for churches that buy their wine supply only once or twice a year.
High alcohol also serves as a sanitizer. Studies show very little transmission of sickness via the shared communion cup.
• All types and colors of wine are used on the altar, from dark red wines such as Mont La Salle Concord, to reddish-pink wines such as Rosato (made by Mont La Salle and Cribari), to pale white such as Cribari Chablis. These examples, by the way, are all 12 percent alcohol, not 18.
• Sacramental wine production was permitted during Prohibition. Sacramental wine sales increased from two millions gallons to almost three million gallons in first two years of Prohibition. Probably not caused by increased number of Catholic Mass services.
Tasting notes on some sacramental wines used in San Angelo area:
• Mont La Salle Concord. Dark purple, medium sweet; 12 percent alcohol. St. Mary’s (San Angelo).
• Cribari Tokay. Red amber, medium sweet; 18 percent alcohol. St. Ambrose (Wall).